Houston Travel Guide

Travel Tips
Travel Tips
Nov 23, 2022


  • Top things to do in Houston for for first-time visitors
  • Getting to Houston - Houston's Airport(s)
  • Transportation in Houston
  • Best Time to Visit Houston
  • Top Attractions in Houston
  • Food in Houston
  • Shopping in Houston
  • Local Customs in Houston
  • Show More

They say everything is big in Texas, that’s certainly sure of Houston. It is the epitome of the Lone Star State, with its sprawling cityscape, a district of superb museums, and an abundance of diverse cultures. With many accolades and nicknames - “Space City” among them, Houston is also at the forefront of space exploration, the energy capital of the world, and a place of wonder, innovation, and hospitality.

Situated in Southeast Texas and about 80 km (50 miles) northwest of the Gulf of Mexico, Houston is the seat of Harris County and the largest city in the United States by total area. In the city limit, there are 11 districts with the Downtown in the very center of the city and consisting of areas like the theater zone and one of two Chinatowns; Midtown District is the home of Little Saigon; Texas Medical Center District is the largest medical complex in the world. With around 2.4 million residents, Houston is also the most populous city in Texas and ranked 4th in population in the US. A culturally diverse city, it has a large and ever-growing international community.

Houston was named after the first president of the Republic of Texas, Sam Houston, in 1836. As the capital of the Texas Republic for only a few years, Houston grew slowly but surely into a regional trading port and a rail center. The discovery of oil triggered major expansion of the city and its economy in the 20th century, which led to the development of a broad industrial base in energy, manufacturing, aeronautics, and transportation. Today, Houston is a notable global city with endearing nicknames like "Space City," "H-Town," and "the 713."

Tourists attracted to Houston’s famous Space Center and a plethora of world-class museums will be delighted by the city’s many other visit-worthy sites. Enjoy an intimate evening in the oldest haunt in town - La Carafe tavern, get inspired by the colorful street murals, embrace cultural diversity in Chinatown and Little Saigon, and discover the quirky side of H-Town at the Beer Can House. For those who fancy a day trip or two outside the city, consider the lake town of Conroe, Blessington Farms, Brazos Bend State Park, Sam Houston National Forest, and Galveston.

The first time visiting a mega metropolitan city in a different part of the country, or the world, can be challenging at times. There are a lot of things to consider beyond your itinerary, e.g. weather, location, safety, and cost. Here are some helpful tips to aid your trip planning process.

First up, when to go? While you can visit Houston year-round, the most pleasant weather is around Spring (February to April) and Fall (September to November). The summer tends to be hot and humid, but it remains the high season for Houston, so expect high prices and packed crowds. While winter is the off-season, but the mild temperature makes it great for sightseeing and the prices are low too.

Next, where should you stay? Depending on the purpose of your visit, here are a few popular areas to ponder over. If you prefer to stay in a centrally located yet upscale neighborhood, areas around The Galleria – the largest shopping center in Texas - are your best choice. For a more artistic environment, Midtown Houston is the home to the Museum District, theaters, and lively nightlife scene. And if you are really into museums, why not just pick your accommodation in the Museum District?

For general safety and what to watch out tips, let’s start with safety. For a large city like Houston, it is still relatively safe for visitors. But crimes are high in certain neighborhoods, so avoid areas like MacGregor neighborhood, Sunnyside, and Sharpstown. Houston's traffic can be rough. So if you are driving, consider traveling between 9 am to 3 pm to avoid traffic jams during the week. Now those pesky mosquitos. As a hot and humid Gulf coast city, Houston is ranked one of the most mosquito-infested cities in America. Remember to protect yourself with plenty of insect repellent as these are disease-carrying critters too.

Visitors to Houston have the choice of using two commercial airports serving the Great Houston area, the George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH) and the William P. Hobby Airport (HOU). The IAH is situated around 37 km (23 miles) north of downtown Houston while the HOU is about 11 km (7 miles) south of the city center. Both airports operate international flights, handle millions of passengers each year, and have state-of-the-art facilities.

The George Bush Intercontinental Airport is the primary airport for Houston. It has five terminals, served by 27 passenger airlines to 187 non-stop destinations, and is the largest passenger hub for United Airlines. As IAH is located much further away from downtown compared to HOU, visitors should bear in mind that this typically means longer travel time on all modes of transport as well as higher fares for options like taxis. From IAH there are several ways to get to the city center. For local bus service, the Houston Metropolitan Transit Authority (METRO) operates Bus 102 between the airport and the METRO station downtown. The journey time takes between 50 to 90 minutes; the fare is only $1.25. Visitors can get the bus at the METRO Bus Stop on the south side of Terminal C. Both taxis and rideshare options can be located outside Baggage Claim/Arrivals Level (Terminals A, B, C, and E). Typical fares (not including gratuity and surcharges) for downtown is around $57 and $65 to Galleria/Medical Center area.

Houston's William P. Hobby Airport (HOU) is considerably closer to central Houston, so for hassle-free transfer, visitors can opt for taxis which are in Curb Zone 2 outside Baggage Claim/Arrivals Level. Typical fares (not including gratuity and surcharges) for downtown is around $29 and $41 to NASA Space Center. To use the budget-friendly local bus, METRO Bus 40 links the airport to downtown and the George R. Brown Convention Center. The fare is $1.25 per ride.

Houston is a city with convenient and affordable public transportation systems, such as an extensive bus network and a light-rail system. But in many instances, it is still much simpler to drive and rent a car to explore the city’s many attractions. To rent a car in Houston, visitors need to be familiar with Texas state law, e.g. you are required to present a valid US driver's license (International Driver's Permit is fine for short-term rental), a major credit or debit card, and renter's insurance. For parking, there is plenty of metered street-side parking downtown, though not cheap (upwards of $25 a day), they are convenient.

Houston’s public transit system includes bus and light rail, the fare for either is $1.25 one-way. Don’t forget to prepare the exact fare in cash as no change is given. If you prefer a contactless payment method, use the mobile ticketing app or get a METRO Q Fare Card which can be purchased at grocery stores and gas stations. A bonus feature of the app or a card is the free three-hour transfers, which aren't available to cash payers. The Light rail has three lines with each taking riders to different tourist destinations, such as Museum District and Midtown on the Red Line, Houston Astros stadium Minute Maid Park via the Purple Line, and Theater District using the Green Line. In terms of local buses, tourists will be interested in the free Greenlink shuttle buses which run to many popular sights around downtown.

Traffic in Houston can to rough, so avoid traveling in rush hours which are between 7:00 a.m. - 9:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. The light rail is often the quickest method to get across town, especially if you’re trying to go downtown or to the med center. If you plan to use public transit a lot, download the METRO app.

Houston has a humid subtropical climate which means hot and humid summers and cool winters. While the city experiences relatively warm weather year-round, the most pleasant climate is around Spring (February to April) and Fall (September to November). During these periods the temperature ranges between 18 C (65 F) and 25 C (78 F). Summer in Houston is unfortunately hot, humid, and sticky. The hottest month is August with an average high temperature of 35 C (95 F). The coldest month is January with an average of 6 C (42 F). As the temperature is still mild, winter is a good time for sightseeing.

Despite the heat and humidity, the high season in Houston is in the summer, between June and September. This is mainly because all the students are on holiday, so families with children flock to the area (and to Texas in general) for all the festivals and fun activities on offer. This is the period when visitors can enjoy local events like Pride Houston, Dragon Boat Festival, Houston Caribbean Festival, and various Independence Day happenings. The low season is the winter months of December to February, so if you want to avoid the crowds and get good deals on hotels and flights, then this is the season for you.

Houston has something for everyone, from solo travelers, families to honeymoon couples, the city offers science, animals, arts, and anything in between. For visitors to Houston on a weekend getaway or a long stay, here are some top attractions to keep you entertained.

Out of all the amazing attractions in the city, the most famous and popular has got to be the Space Center of Houston. This huge complex and a must-see attraction is also the official visitor center of NASA's Johnson Space Center. Visitors will be thrilled by the educationally fun and highly interactive exhibits, getting a rare view of the most extensive collection of lunar samples and moon rocks in the world, and every week there’s the treasured opportunity to encounter real astronauts.

For art lovers and museum-goers, the Museum District is an unmissable destination. You are treated to 19 premium museums, and the crème of the crop is the Houston Museum of Natural Science. With dozens of permanent and special exhibits, the museum hosts a Planetarium and Butterfly Center for people who want to learn new things about space or interact with butterflies. To save some money, consider excellent free museums in the district including Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, Houston Museum of African American Culture, and Rothko Chapel.

If you're looking for some relaxation, head to the impressive green space that is the Buffalo Bayou Park. Take a breather from your travel itinerary and just walk, bike, or paddle your way around this urban park’s many trails, public artworks, and the bayou, of course. And after all that outdoor fun, pop by Bayou Place for some live music and delicious food.

Often on the list of America's best food cities, Houston with its rich cultural diversity has blended various global cuisines and added something unique of its own to each of the dishes.

While BBQ is prevalent in the South, Texas is known for its brisket. This local food icon is smoked and slow cooked to its juicy perfection, often served with popular sides like potato salads and coleslaw, perhaps even with an addition of sausages and ribs. Some of the best briskets can be found at Blood Bros. BBQ, Corkscrew Barbecue, and The Pit Room.

Houston has some of the country's best Mexican and Vietnamese eateries. If you are looking for Mexican and Tex-Mex, order the famous fajitas from the Original Ninfa's on Navigation, drool over the wood-roasted octopus served over masa pancakes from Xochi, or pop some crispy fried grasshoppers at Hugo’s. The list of tasty good eats and excellent restaurants is endless.

Houston has the third-largest Vietnamese population in America; hence, this is the place you will find the most authentic Vietnamese food. Try the chargrilled sausage spring rolls, goat curry, and bun bo Hue spicy beef noodle soup, etc. Top restaurants to consider include Mai’s (Midtown), Le Colonial (River Oaks District), and Crawfish & Noodles (AsiaTown).

Considered as the style capital of the South, Houston will delight shopping enthusiasts with its luxury retail malls, quaint boutiques, and art galleries. With so much on offer, visitors can shop around possible souvenirs like Western wear and cowboy boots, artisan chocolates, and BBQ sets and aprons.

Houston is a sprawling city with at least a dozen distinct shopping areas with various retail stores that sell vintage and modern items. Amongst them, The Galleria is one of the largest shopping malls with 375-plus stores offering well-known domestic and international brands like Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue, Louis Vuitton, Lululemon, and Aveda. In addition, the Galleria caters to the whole family with a grand ice skating rink, swimming pools, multiple beauty salons, and eateries. No wonder, more than 30 million people shop there each year.

Elsewhere, near the Rice University campus is the Rice Village which has a cluster of interesting shops and restaurants. These shops include fashion stores from local designers like Alexandra Knight and Elaine Turner. The River Oaks District is the place for upscale luxury shopping in the city, shoppers will be heaven surrounded by designer clothes and shoes, fine jewelry, and high-end specialty items such as crystal and cigars.

As the largest city in Texas and 4th largest in the US, Houston is considered safe for visitors. While crimes do happen, they are mainly localized in certain neighborhoods. The risk for petty crimes like pickpocketing and purse-snatching is at a medium level, but with standard precautions and be aware of which areas to avoid, tourists should have a pleasant and safe stay. For emergencies, dial 911 for police, fire brigade, and ambulance services.

Like elsewhere in the United States, the US Dollar ($ or USD) is the official currency. Tipping is hugely important in the US, the standard tip in the country between 15-20%.